By Lianne Kolirin
Images of angel wings have been springing up in murals and street art around the world in recent years. While they might make for great selfies and social media profiles, these increasingly common images also reflect the growing interest in the deeper spiritual message.
One in three people in Britain believe in angels and the same proportion feel they have a guardian angel watching over them, according to a poll commissioned by the Bible Society.
Another study by the think tank Theos found in 2012 that even one in five people (21 per cent) who never attend a religious service believe in angels.
Angels feature heavily in the Abrahamic faiths — from the angel of Yahweh who prevented Abraham from killing his son Isaac to Christianity’s seven archangels, while Muslims believe that angels communicate messages from Allah to humanity. Other faiths, among them Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, also feature angels in some form of other.
No one particular faith has a monopoly on angels, as their enduring presence in popular culture shows. From the Robbie Williams song Angels, to films such as It’s a Wonderful Life and City of Angels, humanity has long had a fascination with these celestial beings.
While the most recent data are still a few years old, observers believe the trend has likely grown further — not just in Britain but across the western world. In fact, research in the United States reveals that about seven in 10 people there believe in angels to some extent.
Professor Bettina Schmidt is director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre at the University of Wales, which is home to an archive of more than 6,000 first-person accounts from people around the world who have had a spiritual or religious experience — including with angels.
“Some of the accounts refer to angels, but also guides and guardians,” she told the Religion Media Centre. “Some people have described being trapped or in danger or a near-death experience, but not always. It goes much wider. It’s people who have an experience with something they can’t explain and feel a feeling of warmth and love and protection and this is what they encounter as an experience with angels.”
While angels are found in the scriptures of a broad spectrum of faiths, believers come from a range of backgrounds. “The belief in angels is quite widespread even among people who rarely attend religious services,” Professor Schmidt said. “There are a lot of people who believe in angels who are atheist.”
Unlike with other beliefs, there is no formal structure — no geographic focal point or spiritual leader, she explained. “The vast majority are people who say they have encountered an angel or see it as a guardian — the entity who helped them from a particular situation or gave them peace.”
Experiences were often fleeting, she said, lasted just a few seconds and may involve becoming aware of a different kind of light or sound. “They don’t join a cult or a religious movement, they just see it as someone calling them, someone higher than them who is protecting them. It is quite common for people to say it gives them peace.”
Issues surrounding organised religions may also be partly responsible for the growing faith in angels, Professor Schmidt said. “There are many more people who are stepping away from institutionalised religion. They are hearing all the scandals and are withdrawing from institutions. However, they still have a sense that there is something more than human life and human awareness, something extraordinary and something spiritual. There’s quite a widespread link and belief to the guardian angels which fills the void of religious institutions.”
Peter Stanford is the author of the 2019 book Angels: A History. In a piece he wrote for The Article, he explained the universal appeal of angels. “Guardian angels, in particular, demand from those who place their trust and hope in them no membership of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, no attendance at rituals, no deference to the earthly representative of the gods.
“They are religious, or – if you like, though it is an overused word at the moment – spiritual, yet their make-up and history is such that they can fit just as comfortably into the individualistic, anti-institutional modern mood as they have to more conventionally and collectively religious eras in the past.”
Georgie Deyn was christened as a child, but grew up to be what she describes as a “Christmas Christian”. But when she started to practise reiki, the “energy healing” therapy, she discovered a connection with angels that went from strength to strength — taking in her formative professional experience as a singer and dancer.
As a singer known as Seraphisa, she has recorded five albums of “music for your soul” and hosts a weekly radio show on Pulse Talk Radio.
Deyn believes that interest in angels is growing and told the Religion Media Centre: “More people are coming to it. The Covid situation has really impacted on mental health and I think people need something to believe in and need to know that things are going to get better and you will see loved ones in Australia again and it’s going to be OK.
“It’s also the ripple-in-the-pond effect, so the more people are awakened to love and angels and expanding their consciousness, which then works on someone else.”
Smita Patel is a wellness coach of Indian heritage who was brought up in the Hindu tradition. Among a range of other therapies, Patel practices angelic reiki. She told the RMC that she “gets a lot of protection” from archangel Michael and that she does not know “where I would be without that”.
Patel believes everyone has a guardian angel but adds: “I think everyone can benefit from angelic assistance but they need to ask for help and to believe.”
Lorna Byrne, Irish author of bestselling memoir Angels in My Hair, agrees. A spiritual teacher and philanthropist, Byrne has been seeing angels since early childhood. “They are there to help us and guide us in the world,” she told the RMC.
Her international bestseller sold more than a million copies, which she believes reflects the universal appeal of angels. “I wrote my book over 10 years ago and it just hit the headlines,” she said. “Maybe in writing the book I just gave people that freedom to say they believe.
“There’s a lot of things that connect with people of all faiths and none. I suppose the story just touches everybody’s heart and helps them to see a guardian angel regardless of what religion they are. That their guardian angel is the guardian of their soul and loves them unconditionally, no matter what.”
She added: “Lots of people say that they would never tell anyone that they are spiritual because they are afraid of being ridiculed and laughed at but they tell me they pray and ask for help. In a sense we are kind of all a bit nervous but we have to break through those barriers because nothing in the world today should be happening.”